Applications are open for the 2018/19 Visual Artist Fellow with the Clore Leadership Programme. It’s 3 months since completing my 2017/18 Fellowship and 3 weeks after our official graduation at Tate Britain where Maria Balshaw, director of Tate gave the opening address and encouraged us, in all the work we have ahead of us “to remember the art”. The art is what motivates me to develop as a cultural leader and knowing that engaging with the arts in all its forms can offer positive transformational experiences individual and collective, personal and social, domestic and political.

Many people have asked me how the fellowship had gone and its hard to communicate in a neat capsule statement. It’s unwieldy, challenging and complicated, it’s also supportive, dynamic and exciting. Even though I had written my own fellowship plan and timetable it was fast paced and at times felt relentless. There were the inevitable times when I was buffeted from a conference to a training event to a coaching session before heading off to my secondment. Within this I found Clore to be a combination of being both in the present: listening, learning, reflecting, and thinking about the future: planning, up-skilling, stretching. I used a coaching session with Fearghus Ó Conchúir to reflect on all the rushing around to explore how “I would like it to be” which turned into an idea of having a Slow Week. This consisted of reducing input from meetings, conversations, reading, social media and WhatsApp and increasing walking and reflective thinking time. As the fellowship progressed I thought how important that slow time was to me.

Each Clore Fellow has to write a Provocation Paper about a leadership topic of their choosing. This usually happens in the latter stages of the fellowship. I had a couple of options but it was Slow which really demanded attention. The cultural sector is under more pressure than ever, delivering more with less resources coupled with a culture of working extra hours to meet both our own and organisational standards, this was a good time to tackle this topic. Published in September, the paper introduces the ideas of “Slow” to recruitment, participation, partnership and leadership with suggestions for practical implementation.

“Slow can be considered to be lethargic, half-hearted, dull, perhaps unspectacular, the very opposite of what leadership is projected to be. I would like to reclaim slow as a positive term that facilitates greater inclusion, reflection and considered action in cultural leadership – in fact leadership in any sector. Slow means to be unhurried, measured and moderate. Working with slow could be more deliberate, steady and sedate. What is wrong with being slow-moving? What if slow, being slow, facilitating slow, accepting of slow, were considered a strong facet of leadership? What if slowing down was considered to be a leadership approach and a skill to be admired?”(1)

It was more than ironic that I wrote the paper mostly in a hurry. It was near the end of the fellowship and with my final report to write it kept slipping down my to-do list. When I did get to it, I felt hurried and rushed so I drew upon a quote from Carl Honore from his book In Praise of Slow:

“The slow movement is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. Nor is it a luddite attempt to drag the planet back to some pre-industrial utopia. On the contrary the movement is made up of people like you and me, people who want to live better in a fast paced modern world. That is why the Slow philosophy can be summed up in a single word: balance. Be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and slow when slowness is called for.”(2)

It made sense to be writing the paper slowly but in reality it needed to be completed within a specific timetable. Waiting for the perfect environment, time, resources and support would have been unproductive. In a similar vein there will never be the right time to test out the slow way. So I issue an invitation to read the paper to think on slow, test some of the ideas or simply think about what slow could mean to you, your organisation and your wider life. The provocation is really a call to thinking, reflection and experimentation.

Writing the provocation paper has raised my awareness of slow and other slow advocates. Speaking at Pivotal Moments: Professional Development Models for Mid-Career Artists Donna Lynas, Director at Wysing Arts Centre said

“I feel like we’re reaching a bit of a crisis moment – who are we doing this all for? Why is everything so frenetic all the time? I personally feel that everything needs to slow right down.” (3)

Jo Moran considers slow reading in the digital age in a piece for the Guardian “Go Slow”.

“Reading is constantly promoted as a social good and source of personal fulfilment. But this advocacy often emphasises “avid”, “passionate” or “voracious” reading – none of which adjectives suggest slow, quiet absorption”.(4)

Post Clore Fellowship I am reminding myself that slow is an option and that pragmatism is the friend of productivity, especially when tasks can quickly expand and multiply. As I undertake my Arts and Humanities Research / The Clore Leadership Programme research project Affective support for creative practitioners working in participatory arts for health and wellbeing I am, having read guides to undertaking research projects, speed reading my way across the literature review territory and slowly working through the survey design and responses from contributors. As ever its the combination of approaches which can prove to be the most productive.

1.Nicola Naismith Slow: ideas for recruitment, participation, partnership and leadership Clore Leadership Website 2018

2.Carl Honore, In praise of Slow, Orion Books, London 2005 p.9




A-Z of Leadership Learnings  #clore14 @cloreleadership

A: First + foremost I am an artist; my leadership development is framed by artist as leader, artist in governance, artist placement group, autonomy for artists + audiences and how and when to take action.

B: One baseline element of effective leadership is belief. What do you need to do, think or feel in order to believe in yourself? What characteristics + behaviours do you need to promote + action so others believe in you also?

C: My Clore time has refocused my commitment to working with Context is Half the Work #ArtistPlacementGroup + how identifying and communicating common ground from cross disciplin collaboration feeds my practice exponentially.

D: My clore secondment explored dance @dance_east and learning through doing including a great ballet class! Doing is great for Dyslexic brains which are wired to think differently. Thinking differently = Leadership innovation.

E: The fellowship has expanded horizons from individual practice towards what’s beneficial for the arts sector and practitioners specifically. Important to explore equality + question who gets to be an artist @rhi_annon1584

F: Fellowship is Life so said the clarion movement and Clore is an exemplar of this. Feeling fortunate to know my fellows have my back as floundering + failure couple with experimentation + testing of new learning.

G: Feeling green (as in untried, unsophisticated, inexpert) in the face of new ideas and working practices can feel bruising but cultivating a feeling of generosity to self and others facing the same can be a gracious act.

H: Horizon Scanning: identifying opportunities, emerging issues, potential risks for holistic future planning. Opportunity; growth in arts for good health/wellbeing. Risk; who looks after the health of delivering practitioners?

I: As imagined leadership futures are formed into plans and actions, it may be that impostor syndrome appears alongside trying to remind us we don’t belong. Be insistent and keep going in your direction of travel.

J: Is artist as leader a juxtaposition? Art practice and leadership practice may feel contrasting but at the converging junctions the possibilities of reach, influence and impact result in a strengthening of the arts sector.

K: Locating our own salient point is to find our keynote which comes from exploring, learning and interrogating through conversation, experience and input. After reflection new knowledge emerges to inform practice going forward

L: My late father was an avid golfer and would watch the big players on TV at any opportunity. I’ve always remembered @NickFaldo006 saying on winning a major golf tournament “It’s luck – the more I practice the luckier I get”.

M: Metaphor helps with understanding complexity. A conversation with @Ed_Ikin from the first clore residential about a single stem or multi-stem silver birch regularly informs my thinking on existing practice and new directions.

N: Now is the best time; waiting for circumstances to be ‘right’ and everything to ‘be in place’ before starting is a fallacy. If it feels important, if it demands your attention then begin it now, take the first step.

O: The fellowship led to an overhaul of beliefs, values, activities, approaches to practice, modes of communication. This modernising is still oscillating so there is an opportunity for real change, development and expansion.

P: Many practitioners belong to the Precariat, a new class of worker who lives with instability and uncertainty as an almost constant state. Could Universal Basic Income Help? @theRSAorg The Autonomous Artist

Q: The open questions used in coaching are amongst the most powerful mechanisms for reflective practice. Direct but not directive in their intention they facilitate a much needed space for thought and speaking out loud.

R: Clore is an intense development programme with learning curves coming fast and steep at times so a period of rest and recuperation in what ever form that takes post fellowship will effectively help to cement learning.

S: The Clore Stretch. An invitation issued by our great facilitators @followfearghus and @Mortimeri at the fellowship residentials – to draw out, expand and extend our thinking into new ideas, reflections and connections.

T: My fellowship involved a lot of travel; physically on trains and metaphorically in thinking and thought processes. Travel offers new experiences, input, people and places all informing what action to take when the time comes.

U: There is some immediate understanding of fellowship activities and experiences but really it’s the longer term opening up and unpacking that will lead to further insights; tomorrow, next month, next year, next decade.

V: The completion of Clore may bring to the fore a Fertile Void. Trusting the process and staying with the void of not knowing will result in something new emerging as the only constant in life is change.

W: There was a time when the fellowship was very busy and I took a WhatsApp holiday: it proved just the ticket. In times of complexity it can be productive to reduce input and stimulus to a minimum.

X: Identifying what your x-factor is can be a really useful process: what is it in your approach, method, belief or strategy that could have the most significant impact on a process or outcome?

Y: Yes to ideas, collaboration and slow. Yes to research, conversations and exchange. Yes to new horizons, new projects taking off and exciting times. And yes to remembering it doesn’t all have to be done immediately.

Z: There has been lots of zooming in and zooming back out again over the fellowship getting the balance of big picture + fine details. Official last day of Clore Fellowship but it also continues also…


All the images for the alphabet can be seen on @nicolanaismith1 where the A-Z was first published a day at time over the last 26 days of the fellowship.



lack of success, non-success, non-fulfilment, defeat, frustration, collapse, foundering, misfiring, coming to nothing, falling through fiasco, debacle, catastrophe, disaster, blunder, vain attempt, defeat, flop, botch, let-down, dead loss, dead duck, lead balloon, lemon, loser, born loser, incompetent, non-achiever, underachiever, ne’er-do-well, disappointment, write-off; no one, nobody.


inventiveness, imagination, imaginativeness, innovation, innovativeness, originality, individuality, artistry, expressiveness, inspiration, vision, creative power, creative talent, creative gift, creative skill, resourcefulness, ingenuity, enterprise.


general, ubiquitous, comprehensive, common, omnipresent, all-embracing, all-inclusive, all-round, across the board, global, worldwide, international, widespread, blanket, sweeping, rampant, catholic, inescapable, pervading, pervasive, permeating.

Failure is intrinsic in arts production, an essential component of the creative process. It’s often called creative play; something of itself, an activity without an exact ambition of form or outcome. Whether it is play or failure, as a process it is inherent in creativity; to fail is to reach the piece of work on the other side of a first idea. Experimentation and innovation are the beneficiaries of failure. To have an ambition to only make successful work and thus circumnavigate failure is to make work which never really reaches its true potential. Failure is good, interesting, positive, meandering, unexpected, enjoyable; and sits outside the norm of many other professional expectations.

“To strive to fail is to go against the socially normalised drive towards ever increasing success. In Samuel Beckett’s words: To be an artist is to fail as no other dare to fail.”(1)

If failure in creative process is a desirable positive state, how does failure sit with the economics of running a creative practice?  Perhaps less well. Taking risks with practice and failing, Beckett would have us consider:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”(2)

But to fail at the economics of being a practitioner? It is a privilege which only a few can afford. For if we fail too often at the practice of being an artist (putting the artwork to one side) the impact on individual artists can be huge. The outdated nostalgic image of the struggling artist working in a dank garret, or the idea that great art comes from suffering are unhelpful at best and damaging to practitioners at worst. To continually take risks with failure in practice is perhaps to place the business of being an artist in a perilous  position. Success must come at some point, or preferably  at a series of regular points, to ensure the rent is paid, food is put on the table and utilities kept up to date. Beckett himself was in receipt of an allowance following the death of his father (3) which gave him licence and freedom to fail and fail frequently if desired.

Many artists work on a project to project basis, and in this respect are part of the gig economy, working in structures akin to zero hours contracts and shifting work patterns and pay. The recent UK Government report Experiences of Individuals in the Gig Economy uses the following definition:

“The gig economy involves the exchange of labour for money between individuals or companies via digital platforms that actively facilitate matching between providers and customers, on a short-term and payment-by-task basis”.(4)

We made not be trading labour for income on digital platforms (we may do in part) but many artists are working on a task basis: we call it project working which is effectively a number of tasks held under one project description or contract. The government report emphasises the benefits of the gig economy, but recognises that when this method of working is a primary (not supplementary) source of income the vulnerabilities in terms of working times and pay levels mean individuals can “suffer from a degree of precariousness in terms of a lack of employment rights”.(5)

High on the current arts sector agenda is the issue of diversity in the workforce, which includes explorations of class, and particularly working class, access to the arts through leadership, employment, funding, opportunity and aspiration. Recent reports such as Panic – Its an Arts Emergency, and the work of Rhiannon White’s Class: Elephant in the Room are much needed explorations which increase the levels of the debate around the place class has in the arts.

If failure if a privilege, who is the artist that can hold together creative exploration / failure and business success (or even business subsistence) in the long term? Is it those with economic cushions in the form of working spouses or family backing, private income and savings? If these are the only artists practising, art becomes homogenised and narrow due to the experience base which informed its creation.

In Guy Standing’s book The Precariat he talks of a new dangerous class lacking in both stability and predictability (6) which characterises what many artists face in their working lives. In order to create our best work there needs to be room for autonomy, to make the mistakes, to take risks, to fail; but even that endeavour can come tied to more difficult feelings. Standing looks at the relationship between freedom and anxiety:

“The precariat wants freedom and basic security…..anxiety is part of freedom….Unless anxiety is moderated, anchored in security, stability and control, it risks veering into irrational fears and incapacity to function rationally or to develop a coherent narrative for living and working”. (7)

A desire for a balance between freedom and stability could be met with the Universal Basic Income (UBI); a universal unconditional payment made by the state to each citizen replacing a complex and conditional benefits system. It has been widely debated over the last few years, with a trial in Finland which looked promising, but was recently withdrawn with the reasons for doing so being unclear. Scotland is looking to roll out 4 trials but again details on progress are difficult to track. Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) meanwhile offers a variation on the UBI theme:

“The central proposition is the creation of a Universal Basic Opportunity Fund (UBOF): an effort to reimagine how society supports people to live meaningful, contributory lives. Its premise is simple: fund every citizen under the age of 55 with a £5,000 opportunity dividend for up to two years, taken at a time of their choosing over the course of a decade”. (8)

The RSA proposal offers a middle ground to full UBI, and has the potential to benefit not only artists and creatives but society as a whole; allowing people with caring responsibilities and those wanting to volunteer or study to take that opportunity. The future of UBI or UBOF is uncertain: economic and ideological considerations are still being explored and debated. Perceptions that support of this kind will benefit the work shy prevail, but it is one way to support artists so that they have a baseline income free from conditions, offering both stability and predicability.

In Guy Standing’s further book Basic Income: and how we can make it happen he quotes from a John Farrell article published in 2016:

“Anyone who ever invented or created anything did so with a modicum of financial security behind them. That’s why so many of our statues are to upper-class white men; that’s why Virginia Woolf needed “a room of her own and £500 a year”. For centuries we have tapped the potential of only a small proportion of the British people; the rest have been powerless to initiate or discover where their true talents lay”.(9)

Of course much like Beckett, Woolf benefitted from a financial legacy allowing her to pay for a room of her own. UBI and UBOF could be ways of encouraging a more diverse range of people to think about the potential of developing a career in the arts, supporting them to ‘have a room of their own’ in which to take risks with failure, secure in the knowledge that at least in part their economic stability is predictable.



1. Lisa Le Feuvre (Ed) Failure – Documents of Contemporary Art Whitechapel Gallery, London Pg. 12

2. Chris Power Samuel Beckett, the maestro of failure 7.7.2016  Accessed June 2018

3.  ibid

4. HM Government, The Experiences of individuals in the gig economy, Feb 2018 pg.8 Accessed June 2018

5. ibid pg. 99

6. Guy Standing The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, London, Bloomsbury, 2011, p22

7. ibid p155

8. The RSA Pathways to Universal Basic Income: The case for a Universal Basic Opportunity fund. 16 Feb 2018 Accessed May 2018

9. Guy Standing Basic Income and How we can make it happen Pelican Introductions, 2017, ebook unnumbered page: chapter 8 sub section Creative and Reproductive Labour

Image: Screen grab: The Great British class calculator: